Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Inhumane and cruel

Dec. 10, 2007


The Birmingham News, opinion

THE ISSUE: The U.S. Supreme Court's delay of Tommy Arthur's execution last
week was a signal to Alabama.

The country's highest court refused to allow the state of Alabama last week
to execute Tommy Arthur, and let's hope our officials are finally getting
the message.

There's not much point in setting execution dates when the U.S. Supreme
Court and other courts have decided to hear challenges to lethal injection
methods in various states, including Alabama.

A number of other states already had gotten the message and have stopped
trying to carry out death sentences while the legal cases are pending. Even
Texas has put the brakes on its busy execution chamber.

Alabama, though, has continued to set execution dates. Indeed, it has one
set Jan. 31 for James Callahan, an inmate who has a lethal injection case
pending in a Montgomery federal court. The state should do the kind thing
for the families of Callahan and his victim and postpone that execution now.
It is cruel to put them through the buildup, when there's every reason to
believe courts won't allow the execution to go forward anyway.

State officials shouldn't be eager to go through with executions anyway when
questions remain about whether inmates experience unconstitutional suffering
while being put to death. And, yes, we know that sounds like a bad joke. But
we live in a society - and thankfully so - which requires that condemned
inmates at least be executed in a legal, humane manner.

Until that can be assured, the state of Alabama should not even attempt to
put inmates to death.

And while state officials are killing time instead of inmates, they should
go one step further - and order DNA testing for Death Row inmates for whom
the new technology could shed light on their guilt or innocence.

Arthur's case is a prime example.

Hair, semen and other evidence in the case certainly would be tested if
Arthur were being tried today. But the scientific testing wasn't available
when Arthur was tried and convicted (wrongfully, he says) for the 1982
murder of Troy Wicker. Gov. Bob Riley has refused repeated requests to test
the evidence now, even though at least one of those requests has come from
Wicker's family.

On Thursday, the celebrated Innocence Project, which has been involved in
the DNA exonerations of more than 200 inmates across the country, again
called on Riley to order the tests. The Innocence Project is right: "Now is
the time to act."

Testing the DNA isn't going to hold up the execution any longer than it is
already being held up. A test that confirms Arthur's guilt will merely
remove one less concern when states get a green light to resume executions.
A test that raises questions about Arthur's guilt will indeed open a whole
new can of worms - but it's a can that should be opened before Arthur is put
to death for a crime he insists he did not commit.

Riley is called on to make many difficult decisions as governor. But this
isn't a difficult one. Riley should order DNA testing for any Death Row
inmate who disputes his guilt and whose case involved evidence that could be

The U.S. Supreme Court has given him yet another window of opportunity to do
the right thing.


Source : The Birmingham News, opinion

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